As a UX researcher, I sometimes feel unsure of myself –and I thoroughly recommend it!

As a UX researcher, I sometimes feel unsure of myself –and I thoroughly recommend it!

So there I am.

In a project lab where 80 techies are hard at work, crammed between monitors, cables, tools and measuring instruments.

The project manager has just slammed the results of my usability test onto his desk. ‘You’re not seriously thinking that I’m going to fall behind schedule a single day just because you happened to speak to a client who didn’t understand the first thing about it?’

The developers continue working as if nothing has happened. The roll-out of the Triple X3000 is scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks’ time.

Are you familiar with that nagging feeling that your work isn’t being appreciated for what it is?

The Purl moment

My first job had me working as the only psychologist in a group of engineers. As one of the few women in the company. Whenever I started talking about the latent needs of end users, I would be met by blank stares. ‘Can you put that in a chart?’

Sometimes you feel you’re all on your own. Even if you’re not the only UX researcher in the room. You’re constantly assuming final responsibility. And especially when your company isn’t very familiar with the subject matter, you need to be full of self-confidence.

Purl: colleagues with a different background to hers don’t understand her. As a psychologist among techies, I do.

So make sure you’re not isolated: form an alliance with influence

I was lucky with my head of department: a man with a lot of technical expertise, experience within the company, and confidence in me. He convinced project managers and heads of department how important my research was, which meant I could spend all my time and energy focusing on the content.

But chances are that your manager isn’t like that. In which case, look around for an influential colleague: preferably someone who speaks the language of the sceptics. For example, a developer with an interest in the human side, or a designer who understands what user research involves.

That moment when you realise you’re just another item on a list, waiting to be ticked off

We’re incredibly relieved. As well as quite proud. As researchers at a big market research agency, Susan and I have finalised a report just before the deadline. And without cutting any corners.

“We really need it ASAP,” the client had said.

The next day, I call her. She hasn’t even read it yet. And a week later it’s the same story.

And that’s the moment you realise it: all that research you’d been working so hard on was for nothing more than an item to be ticked off a list that the client needed for the product launch.

Don’t expect a glorious welcome from the client – go to your peers for positive energy

Of course some clients will appreciate your work. Cherish them. But more often than not, the client is only focused on their own interests: deadlines, budgets, milestones.

I’ve yet to meet a client who accepted my results with open arms.

If you’re looking for some positive recognition, you’re better off talking to your peers. They’re the ones who will understand just how difficult it is to recruit ten 17-year-old young men for a study on insurances. And they’ll certainly be inspired by the original way you managed to find them.

How about writing a blog on Medium, or presenting a study at your next lunchtime meeting? Or, if that’s not quite your style, invite fellow-researchers for an informal get-together and discuss the latest methods, or how to present your insights effectively.

That agonising moment of insecurity

There will always be times when you’re plagued by feelings of self-doubt. Did you choose the right method? Shouldn’t you have invited more participants? Did you give in too easily to the pressure of the agile schedule?

And that’s perfectly OK

Erika Hall introduced the concept of the continuous learning quotient. CLQ = the percentage of people in your organisation who have no problems saying: “I don’t know”. The higher the CLQ, the quicker an organisation learns.

As a researcher, you’re trained to ask questions: What’s the world really like? What’s going on under the surface? If you continue to ask questions and remain critical, you will help the organisation achieve a higher CLQ.

And what if at some point you’re immediately convinced you’ve got the right answer?

That’s when you need to take a step back and start doubting your own expertise.

Karin den Bouwmeester (she/her)

Karin is the founder of UXinsight. With over 20 years of hands-on research experience, she’s determined to help the research community grow to a mature level. She loves to connect UX researchers from all over the world and facilitating user research training and workshops.

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